Pittsboro medical device manufacturer vaulted to global relevance

BY D. LARS DOLDER, News + Record Staff
Posted 4/28/21

Medical device manufacturers have come under intense scrutiny in the last year. Several scrambled at the pandemic’s start to supply COVID-19-specific products, with limited success. Just this …

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Pittsboro medical device manufacturer vaulted to global relevance

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Gov. Roy Cooper examines a face shield created by Gilero in Pittsboro during a visit there in December. Gilero is one of the state's leading producers of PPE (personal protective equipment).
Gov. Roy Cooper examines a face shield created by Gilero in Pittsboro during a visit there in December. Gilero is one of the state's leading producers of PPE (personal protective equipment).
Photo courtesy of Governor's Office
Posted

Medical device manufacturers have come under intense scrutiny in the last year. Several scrambled at the pandemic’s start to supply COVID-19-specific products, with limited success. Just this month, federal regulators harangued a medical laboratory in Baltimore after hasty disregard for sanitation standards led to about 15 million contaminated vaccines.

But Pittsboro’s Gilero — an engineering design firm and medical device producer — is showing the world how it’s done.

I caught up with Gilero’s CEO, Ted Mosler, last week to see what new and ambitious plans he has for the yet-modest operation. Last I wrote about the company, Gov. Roy Cooper had just visited the Pittsboro plant to examine its face shield production. Gilero, which only opened its Pittsboro location in 2019, shot to statewide prominence when its 3D printed plastic protectors were used in health care facilities around North Carolina.

Its next moves, though, will promote Gilero to international renown.

“We’re scaling up to very high production there in Pittsboro to pack out and sterilize swabs,” Mosler told me. “We’ll be in a position to do 30 million units per month by the summertime.”

Swabs may not sound all that exciting, but these are no run-of-the-mill Q-tips. The “novel swabs,” as Mosler calls them, are entirely made of plastic (no cotton) and carefully prepared and packaged to uphold rigorous sanitation standards. For what? To be used in the first federally-backed, at-home, instant-result COVID-19 test kits.

“Right now, when you need to get a test, maybe you go to the doctor or go to a parking lot and someone swabs your nose through your car window, and then eight hours later you get a text message and you find out if you have COVID,” Mosler said. “Now, with these new tests — if maybe your loved one’s feeling ill — you can run to the drugstore, get a test for $15 to $30, and the results come in 20 minutes.”

The kits promise to buttress normalcy as we enter post-pandemic living. Most experts have given up on the idea that the coronavirus will retreat into obscurity as other frightful viruses have in the past (when’s the last time you heard reports of Ebola spreading?). Already several coronavirus variants have emerged, and it’s unclear whether currently available vaccines will effectively ward them off.

“It’s unlikely that the vaccines we have right now are going to provide sterilizing immunity,” said Jennifer Gommerman, an immunologist at the University of Toronto, in an interview with The New York Times. In other words, vaccines will not stifle infection forever. The virus is here to stay.

That doesn’t mean, though, that we’re doomed to eternal apocalyptic crisis. Eventually, epidemiologists predict the coronavirus will assume a place in our lives much like the regular flu. We’re habituated to the flu, but it kills tens of thousands every year. COVID-19 and its offspring will, too. So, how are we to know if future malaise is symptomatic of the coronavirus? An easy drug store test sure would help, and Gilero will be central in its production.

Of course, rival COVID test kits are also in development. But Gilero’s — although primary ownership belongs to Durham’s Yukon Medical LLC with Gilero as a key contributor — is the only one funded by the National Institutes of Health as part of its RADx (rapid development of diagnostics) initiative. Radx was created “to speed innovation in the development, commercialization, and implementation of technologies for COVID-19 testing,” according to the NIH website. “Accurate, fast, easy-to-use, and widely accessible testing is required before the nation can safely return to normal life.”

Eventually, Mosler says, Gilero’s special swabs might appear in a dozen or more test kits sold under different names all around the world.

“It’ll start nationally at first,” he said, “but once U.S. demand is met, they’ll start selling these products globally.”

Right now, Gilero’s Pittsboro factory employs about 25 workers. At the pandemic’s zenith, about 35 worked around the clock to meet demand for face shields. The extra workers weren’t laid off — most of them were college students who have since returned to school. But Mosler expects the factory will need 20 new employees before year’s end. Besides the critically-important swabs, Gilero will soon begin production of a “hospital pharmacy bag product” for use in administering chemotherapy, a skin numbing device that just received FDA clearance and a device that “will be kitted with a non-opioid drug to eliminate pain from surgical procedures,” Mosler said.

Most of the new jobs will be entry level operators, but the company “does not pay minimum wage,” Mosler said. “We pay a very competitive wage so that we’re able to keep people here.” Ideal candidates will have at least a high school degree.

“We have been very impressed by the labor pool, and it’s a really nice location that we have been very happy with,” Mosler said. “We couldn’t be happier with it. All the employees love the ability to walk downtown and grab lunch ... Even our design center people based in RTP, everyone loves making the trip to Pittsboro, it’s their favorite place to go.”

Other business news

In a major boon for the greater Triangle region, Apple will establish a new campus in RTP, as first reported by the News & Observer.

The company announced its decision on Monday after more than three years of deliberation. Apple representatives say it will invest $1 billion in the state over the next 10 years. In Raleigh, the company will pour $522 million into design and construction of its new facility where 3,000 employees will eventually work, earning an average salary of $187,000.

The camous site is to be on the Wake County side of RTP, according to the N&O, with “tracts of land straddling N.C. 540 near Cary and Morrisville.”

The proposed location is a short drive from Pittsboro where the Chatham Park development and other neighborhoods are preparing to welcome more than 50,000 new residents over coming decades.

In a joint statement on Monday from Gov. Roy Cooper and Chatham Rep. Robert Reives II, among others, state leaders expressed their hope that Apple’s new move will further bolster North Carolina’s growing and competitive society.

“Innovation has long been North Carolina’s calling card and Apple’s decision to build this new campus in the Research Triangle showcases the importance of our state’s favorable business climate, world-class universities, our tech-ready workforce, and the welcoming and diverse communities that make so many people want to call North Carolina home,” the statement reads. “This announcement will benefit communities across our state and we are proud to work together to continue to grow our economy and bring transformational industries and good paying jobs to North Carolina.”

Have an idea for what Chatham business topics I should write about? Send me a note at dldolder@chathamnr.com or on Twitter @dldolder

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